National Fix A Leak Week aims each March to raise awareness of the waste at the expense of household leaks. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average American home loses 10,000 gallons of water each year.
Most leaks can be traced back to one of a few common sources. Repeat offenders include toilets, faucets and leaking valves.
"There are a few typical places where leaks are pretty common, No. 1 would be a toilet," said Cartersville Water Department Assistant Director Bob Jones. "People will be shocked at how much water can leak through a toilet in 30 days. We see bills that easily double and triple that are attributable to a toilet."
Jones clarified that if a bill is two or three times higher than normal due solely to a leaking toilet, the leak will be large enough to be heard running into the bowl. For slower leaks that can go unnoticed and lead to consistently high bills, Jones suggests putting food coloring in the toilet tank and waiting to see if color shows up in the bowl.
Jeff Hayhurst of Rapid Flow Plumbing echoed Jones' concerns over the waste often found in connection with faulty toilets.
"That's one of the biggest wastes of water that you have and you never know it because it just goes over the overflow, down the drain, and you never realize it," Hayhurst said. "A lot of times they'll call us and say, 'Well, I have a high water bill. I think I've got a leak somewhere in the yard.' And when we get out there it's really nothing in the yard, it's actually just the toilet that runs, and they don't realize it because sometimes the toilet is really quiet.
"Sometimes leaks are so small and they creep up so gradually that you just think, 'Oh this is just normal, we're just using more water now,' when really you have a leak but you don't realize it."
Unsuspecting problems, such as toilets and other trouble areas, can add up. In addition to water costs, sewer usage is billed for the entire amount of water purchased even if a leak is found in the yard where water is not returned directly to the sewer line.
A service-line leak, occurring between the meter and the home will often be very noticeable creating a dramatic difference in utility costs from one month to the next. Slower leaks, however, will not be readily noticeable and paying attention to the meter may be the next step in finding the problem and correcting the leak. New meters have a low-flow indicator to quickly help detect leaks while older meters may require an observation over time.
"Not all water meters have this, the newer ones do, and we do have a program where we're going through and changing meters out. There is a red triangle on the face of the meter and what that is, is an ultra-low-flow leak detector," Jones said. "You need to spend at least 30 seconds staring at this little triangle, and if you see it moving when you know no one is using water, that indicates that you have a leak somewhere. Very often, what that means is you have a leak between the house and the meter somewhere in your service line, and that's a good way to tell whether or not you have an underground leak that may go unnoticed for years."
For meters without a low-flow indicator, Jones suggests recording every number on the odometer and the position of the sweep hand below the odometer before bed. Turn off all water within the house, including automatic ice makers, and check the numbers again in the morning.
This process also can be performed by water department officials upon request. The city of Cartersville accepts applications for water bill adjustments following a catastrophic water-loss incident after the leak is fixed and the repair has been verified.
For more water saving tips and advice, visit www.epa.gov/watersense.